Womad Festival, Charlton Park, Malmesbury
Global gathering is world class
Tuesday 02 August 2011
There was no drumming allowed in the campsite at Womad, but with so much pounding action across five stages, you could be forgiven for thinking every one of the 35,000-strong crowd was wielding the sticks. Apart, that is, from Sunday morning, when a world-record attempt was made at air guitar – no drums, just Jimi Hendrix over the PA and 2,227 silent axe-merchants (they broke the record, for the record).
If in its 29th year Womad hadn't exactly rung the changes, it was of no matter to the audience; this is a festival at which familiarity breeds contentment.
Saturday night's headline act, Baaba Maal, started his set in an almost perfunctory fashion, muttering "I love it here in London", but the enthusiasm of the massed musos soon lifted him – and the early quiet songs (from a set he said would range across his entire back catalogue) gave way to raucous foot-stompers.
Earlier in the day, on the charmingly Radio 3 woodland encampment, an exciting new talent held the crowd enthralled. Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara, statuesque with a fluoro head-wrap and shells in her hair, sang of the world's orphans with a beautiful, clear voice, accompanying herself on electric guitar and with a three-piece band that showed a relaxed verve that clearly came of much practice. Fatou herself started as a backing singer for Oumou Sangare, so she knew a thing or two about keeping things tight.
The melancholy sound of fado is a Womad stalwart, and this year Ana Moura stopped the Saturday afternoon grazers and shoppers in their tracks. Sixtysomething regulars and teenage first-timers alike whooped her magical set.
One nod to a new generation of festos were The Nextmen and MC Wrec, who with strobe lights and multiple turntables turned the Big Red Tent into an approximation of a rave. Adele, The Prodigy and Marvin Gaye mixed if not quite smoothly, then certainly bouncily enough for the largely underage and excitable crowd (whose parents had retired early to their Cath Kidston tents).
On Sunday lunchtime, when the Dhols of Jaipur took to the Open Air stage the reverberations were felt miles away – the drums with which the world music festival is always associated were back.
Ticket sales were up 29 per cent on last year – it may not have the celebrity pull of Glastonbury, but Womad is a warm-hearted festival that should ensure its existence long after next year's 30th anniversary.
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